The country’s coronavirus toll crossed 50,000 on Monday. More than 28 lakh people have been infected by the pathogen. India is the world’s third-most COVID-19-affected country — in terms of mortality and number of infections — after the US and Brazil. But amid such dismal factoids, there are also early signs of the country getting an upper hand in its struggle against the contagion. For the first time since May, the positivity rate — the percentage of the virus carriers amongst those tested — has begun to come down. This figure had touched a high of 9 per cent on August 9 and has been on a decline ever since — it currently stands at 8.7 per cent. It is also heartening that the infection rate has remained stable even as tests have been scaled up in most states. The number of new positive cases has remained between 60,000-70,000 for two weeks now — much longer than it has remained in any other range.
There are, however, good reasons to temper optimism with caution. A breakdown of the national-level data suggests that some states have more work to do than others. Delhi has seen a continuous decline in the number of active cases for more than a month: From a high of about 28,000 at the end of June, the number of active cases has fallen to a little over 7,000 this week. Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu remain COVID-19 hotspots but the two states have managed to check the speed of transmission by ramping up testing and shoring up medical amenities. But such alacrity has been at a premium in West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Bihar and Telangana. Last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi pulled up these states for not conducting adequate number of tests even though they have a high positivity rate. Moreover, most states continue to test only those who show COVID symptoms, or their close contacts. Given that a substantial number of coronavirus carriers are asymptomatic, random tests could give a truer picture of the spread of the infection. Such tests could substantiate, corroborate and even disprove the results of the recent serological surveys in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune, which indicate the number of people exposed to the virus could be much more than suggested by the data on confirmed infections.
The pathogen will remain till there is a vaccine against it. In the past three weeks, COVID-19 clusters have resurfaced in countries that had flattened the transmission curve two months ago — France, Spain, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany and South Korea. Kerala — once the most successful state in containing the pandemic — has seen a spurt of cases in the past fortnight. The experience of the past six months will, no doubt, offer valuable lessons in combating the virus in the coming days and weeks. But the most important caveat remains: The coronavirus is unpredictable, and there can be no letting the guard down.